MONSTA X’s The Dreaming Movie Review
As a dedicated Monbebe, I write this review with a love for the group and a desire to hear more of their incredible story.
MONSTA X’s backstory is fascinating, but non-fans who watch The Dreaming wouldn’t know it. If someone had walked into this movie not knowing anything about the band’s backstory, they would have left with the same level of ignorance. MONSTA X have countless, compelling components to their story that could have made this documentary/concert film a chance to vastly expand their fan base. By sticking to relatively generic interview questions and skimming over so much of MONSTA X’s history, this movie turned out to be a sorely missed opportunity.
Topics Left Uncovered
MONSTA X have had to work their way up as artists from a company without the prestigious “Big Three” label, they have had to adjust to losing a seventh member, and they have endured an intense reality show experience through No Mercy. Because of all they have overcome and conquered, MONSTA X can provide a world of insight when prompted. They have advice for overcoming imposter syndrome, stories about going from adversaries to close friends, and memories of times when they almost gave up but kept going. These substantive topics were given little to no attention in The Dreaming. Instead, the members’ interview questions seem to have solely focused on future goals and what messages they have for fans in general.
A more specific chapter of MONSTA X’s story that deserved more than a passing mention in The Dreaming is Joohoney’s hiatus. While it has become a bit more normalized in the United States, it is still incredibly stigmatized for South Korean artists to open up about their mental health. That is why it was an enormous deal when Joohoney not only decided to prioritize his mental health above everything else, but that he chose to tell the world about it, rather than stick to the typical, generic “personal reasons” statement a K-pop company issues when a band member goes on a break. This was a brave and monumental disclosure, particularly since he is considered the member who always comes across as the most self-assured and positive. His hiatus sent an important message about the extent to which inner struggles and external demeanors might not match; one never truly knows what someone else’s struggles are.
Having described their No Mercy days as “hell,” it is understandable that MONSTA X would opt out of rehashing that chapter of their lives in a documentary. It is also understandable for them to decline even mentioning their former seventh bandmate, since they and their company might want to keep fans’ focus on the group’s bright future, rather than looking at an emotionally heavy past. Living life not dwelling on the past is great, but that is simply not what documentaries are for; documentaries allow for their subjects to be seen in a new light by presenting the audience with insights into who the subjects are and how they became that way. By focusing on the former without the latter, the story feels incomplete and disappointingly sanitized.
As for Joohoney’s mental health hiatus, I did not expect The Dreaming to dwell on it for very long, but I did hope at least a little more time would have been spent discussing it. Stigma is not the sole reason the topic was glossed over; after all, SEVENTEEN’s S.COUPS got to open up about his anxiety-related hiatus from the group in their docuseries. S.COUPS’ decision to publicly cite anxiety as the reason he would not be seen on stage for a while was as much as, if not more of, a big deal in the world of K-pop as Joohoney’s announcement, and if anything, S.COUPS’ opening up increased SEVENTEEN’s number of admirers. There were ways Joohoney could have been permitted to discuss his anxiety that would not have hurt his career or crossed an implicit red line about what can and cannot be said publicly.
I did not expect The Dreaming to be incredibly revealing; the nature of the K-pop industry is very secretive, and certain topics are considered taboo to discuss. However, I did expect at least a few nuggets of new information about or thought-provoking quotes from the group, and The Dreaming contained none.
The Problem with the Movie’s Format
The members did express several times in The Dreaming how they hoped the film would be an uplifting gift for the fans who haven’t been able to see them at an in-person event in years. But the cheerful tone did not have to be treated as mutually exclusive from a more serious one. If they wanted to keep The Dreaming a happy story, it should have been solely a concert film, or a docuseries with certain episodes sticking to lighter topics and other episodes focused on more serious ones. By mixing performances in with brief interview segments and trimming the running time down to 85 minutes, viewers were left with the worst of both worlds. There is simply not enough time to show an audience why MONSTA X are both fantastic performers and wonderful people on the inside in just 85 minutes. The Dreaming should have either stuck to one lane (performances only or interviews only) or been reorganized and expanded into a series.
Other structural aspects of The Dreaming were disappointing, such as the seemingly random song order. A clip of the members during their debut days was followed by a performance of one of their 2021 title tracks, and their 2017 hit “Dramarama” was performed following interview segments about more recent topics. In addition to a messed-up chronology, the format of the movie felt jolting in tone. “The Dreaming,” the song that carries the same name as the movie, was sung partway through, making the movie feel like it was ending way before it was. The list goes on and on of editorial decisions that were frustrating.
The Bright Side
Watching The Dreaming was not a waste of time; they did get to show off their charismatic stage presence, and there were a few funny scenes showing the members’ brotherly dynamics. But it would have been much more enjoyable to watch had there been more of either of them. My critiques are aimed not so much at the content in the documentary/concert film, but rather at what was not in it. The Dreaming barely scratched the surface when it comes to learning about MONSTA X, and I am disappointed by the wasted potential to win over new Monbebe.
The overarching issue with both the structure and substance of The Dreaming: it tried to be every kind of celebrity-focused movie at once, failing to take any specific angle to its fullest extent. By not following a coherent arc, delving into MONSTA X’s fascinating past, or including a wider range of topics in the interview segments that made the final cut, the film is underwhelming and does a disservice to the group it is supposed to be promoting. My dedication towards certain K-pop groups has come and gone, but it has been and still remains unwavering for MONSTA X. I have followed their career from their early days and have witnessed them overcome obstacle after obstacle. I have seen something so special and unique in them for so long, and I am yearning for the day more people see that spark. I just wish The Dreaming had been up to that task.